All images by Dave Kai-Piper. Used with permission.
Photographer Dave Kai-Piper is a Commercial and Editorial photographer based in London; and his photography has grown and evolved a lot over the past couple of years; which includes a sponsorship with Fujfilm. Part of every photographer’s career involves experimentation; and for Dave this involves doing nude portraiture. This form helped him combine many parts of his creative self: specifically blending his love of Rock music, photography, and the human form.
To Dave, a nude person is just a nude person.
Phoblographer: Your nude portraiture tends to be edgy but tasteful while using elements and trends that are popular today in the fashion world. So when you’re working with a model, how do you go about creating ideas, concepts and communicating them to your subject?
Dave: To start with, I guess I look at things different from most. I see very little eroticism in the nude form. A naked person is not inherently always sexy or erotic, it is the viewer that imparts that feeling upon the image. The same for many different things creative things, like what is heavy music or violence in films. in I guess this is a complex way of saying, any image is what you make of it, we all see the world different and from different stand points.
As a social voyeur, I use my camera to document many different areas of life, some of this is portrayed as ‘nude’ or fashion, or sometimes a blend of few things. I get a kick out of making images people can spend time understanding or misunderstanding. Simple on the first glance, but with a little depth too. There is fun in making ‘un-perfect’ images also. I am still at the very beginning of my nude based work I think. Things at the moment are in an exploratory stage. So far I have been ‘testing the limits’ and boundaries of what is & what is not to much. There is something to be said for knowing your limits and knowing the right way to work in and around these environments too. Learning to communicate and being comfortable in the surroundings the most beneficial you could do.
There are some funny stories I have about Swiss Swinger clubs that are for another time, but, I can only say that there is never a substitute for experience in all areas of life.
“A naked person is not inherently always sexy or erotic, it is the viewer that imparts that feeling upon the image.”
Phoblographer: You have a mix of lots of black and white and lots of very deep contrast color. What sources do you get your inspiration from?
Dave: Pretty much Newton. Well, Newton, Horst & Guy Bourdin as three names that come to mind instantly. But, I guess it does go deeper. I am a Punk Rock fan, I love metal, fast drums – in short – I love rock and Roll. I love directness & making a viewpoint. I love films – I grew up on people like Tim Burton. I guess I like things a little rough around the edges in sense of not really fitting in to a genre. There is nothing better than something that does not quite fit, but does – if that makes sense.
Phoblographer: As your work has evolved over the years, what do you think has really helped define your creative vision when it comes to nude portraits?
Dave: I am learning more about me. Getting comfortable to bring together things other people might think are odd. Being self aware about where I am going is something that I think only time can create. Just shooting and building up that style, flow and history in which you can reflect and learn from. We never stop learning, we never stop refining.
Confidence is key when photographing naked people I think – that’s the little bit of something that can create a special image. On set – confidence is the killer enemy – on any set and especially when you are photographing provocative things. Any slight tip in the chemistry on set will ruin a shoot in seconds. If the Photographer shows a weakness, you might as well hang up the camera and go home. Who wants to be photographed naked by someone who is pouring doubt and negativity in to an image. I think it was Newton who said “My job as a portrait photographer is to seduce, amuse and entertain.” – if you break it down, he is quite right, but I don’t read the seduce in a sexual way.
Phoblographer: What are your aims and goals for each portrait shoot? Emphasis on beauty? Overall shapes? What do you feel help you make your images definitely yours because your photos are totally unique amongst the plethora or others out there.
Dave: Well, at the moment I am still really trying to find that flow, find me, in a style sense. I am 32 at the moment – so there is a long time to go. Nothing needs be rushed. “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” – said Henri! Not sure how far along I am in journey but I sure know I still very near the start.
I promise I am not trying to name drop but, I bumped in to Justin Hawkins from The Darkness, we had a chat about a few things and my work came up. He happened to mention something that I quite enjoyed – he brought up the tonal feeling and the timeless nature of the work. I do work hard on creating images that are hard pin into a year or fashionable ‘look’. Creating images that don’t belong to a time frame in short. In my eyes this is a way to give more life to an image – if people can not date an image, how do they know if it’s old or current or just an image. People like to put things in boxes so they can make sense of things. These days people view images and discard them so quick – grabbing someones attention is hard work – impressing them even harder.
If I went out to try and make beauty images, using nudity is a hard mix. Nudity for some, is such a dominant aspect that just a hint can distort all ‘beauty’ for some viewers – leaving you with a photo of a girl with her tits out. Which is OK, if that is what you want, but it would be something I like to avoid. Making images with a large amount of sexual content yet still being in context and acceptable is the key for me. Being bold, making statements, over stepping, then under stepping is all part of that refinement process to find the balance of where it is I am going, where ever that maybe.
Phoblographer: What was your first nude portrait experience like?
Dave: One of the first times was in Tuscany, it was a photo of Zoi Morgan and to this day, an image I really love.
To be honest – it really didn’t phase me. Nude or clothed it didn’t really matter. The nude aspect was not the main element in my eyes. Shooting erotica for the first time was a different matter though as the whole thing was different and at the time something I didn’t really understand as well as I do now. Where you draw the lines from nude to erotica is the key element that needs to be understood.